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If Global Warming Is a Lie, Will Green Investments Go Cold?


ETFs, mutual funds that invest solely in environmentally friendly companies are bound to be affected.

If there's one trend that's exploded in recent years it's been "going green." As a result, the overwhelming majority of companies on the face of the earth have been falling over one another for ways to prove their green bona fides.

Not to be outdone, the investment business has joined in the ranks of the committed as well. We have ETFs and mutual funds that invest solely in green companies; investment banks have green tech analysts; and, maybe the biggest bonanza of them all, the huge potential for trading carbon credits as envisioned in a "cap and trade" program. (For more on green investing, read Go Green and Invest Ethically)

So what happens to all of this if the underlying crisis (anthropogenic global warming, now referenced as climate change) were called into question?

The Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UK) is the heart of climate science research and at the very foundation of climate-change theory. About a week ago, someone anonymously posted on a Russian server thousands of emails and documents from the inner core of scientists at the CRU and their peers. Whether this disclosure was the result of a hacker or a whistle blower is unknown for certain.

What little coverage has taken place in the mainstream media has largely focused upon the apparent criminality of the act as well as the usual claim of things being taken out of context. The disclosures appear to be legitimate as there's been no real denial of their validity. Someone has taken the time to put the data in searchable form at the following site:

Aside from the legal aspects of their "acquisition," what the exchanges appear to show as much as anything is the politics of science. They highlight an apparent willingness to suppress data as well as fellow scientists that fail to support their opinions.

Domestically, we have a huge investment in the "planet at risk" theory. We've waged war for decades on fossil fuels; our EPA has declared the gas we exhale a pollutant; and, unsurprisingly, more than a few politicians are attempting to ride the wave.

What if it's all BS?

Aside from the potential loss of a massive carbon trading operation by Goldman Sachs (GS), there would be some very real losers out there. Large amounts of capital have been thrown at green-technology companies in recent years. The venture capital industry invested $5.2 billion in clean technology companies in 2007 according to Cleantech Group, LLC and another $8.4 billion last year. While the numbers are off in 2009, that's driven largely by the current state of the economy. On the public side, there are hundreds of companies trading every day that directly or indirectly benefit from the "clean" movement. The Cleantech Index (CTIUS) boasts a collective market capitalization of more than $100 billion.

The underlying assumption in many of those investments has been that political mandates will be instituted as a means to forestall the apocalypse and that those mandates will, for the most part, override economics. Whether it's bio-fuels, solar-/wind-based electricity, hybrid vehicles, or whatever, the catalyst behind most initiatives isn't their inherent efficiency versus alternatives, but their relative carbon footprint versus those alternatives.

Hey, I have no great desire to foul up the planet any more than the next person, but if in reality, it's all a fraud, it makes Bernie Madoff look like a Little Leaguer. Will the powers that be simply push through their plans and ignore the questions that Climategate raises?

Before you dismiss these questions out-of-hand as those of a raving lunatic, keep one point in mind: China and India have no interest in throttling their economies in the interests of climate change. Any opportunity to challenge the validity of the movement will be probed. Since the CRU is the scientific backstop of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it goes to the very heart of the issue.

Investment dollars follow the perceived opportunities. But, as we've seen as recently as the dot-com bubble, not all investment trends are built upon solid foundations.

Obviously, I have no way of knowing the answers. But to say that the next year or so will be an interesting time is a massive understatement.

For more on this subject, read The Impact of an Absent Climate Crisis.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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